What we can learn from Julia Gillard - Women's Agenda

What we can learn from Julia Gillard

Over the weekend The Guardian seized a sizeable scoop and published an essay written by the former prime minister Julia Gillard. The piece, that covered her personal reaction to her deposal, her vision for Labor’s future and her take on the problems that dogged her in government, marked the end of her silence on the public record since the leadership spill on the 26th of June.

It is not surprising that her piece attracted attention or that it was invariably construed as a blatant publicity stunt or an attack on Kevin Rudd. Given the events of May 2010 such a reaction is somewhat inevitable, something she noted. But I don’t think that disentitles Gillard from being able to voice her opinion and I don’t think it diminishes the fact that people wanted to hear her perspective. And, perhaps this is naïve, but I think people from a variety of political persuasions, would have been interested to read, without necessarily agreeing with, her perspective.

Whichever side of the political fence you favour it is hard to deny that the past six years in government have been tumultuous and Julia Gillard is inextricably linked with that. Yalda Hakim, the correspondent the BBC sent to Australia to cover the federal election, says it’s been such a dramatic chapter in Australia’s politics that the appetite for news from overseas was significant.

“In the UK there has been interest in the Shakespearean-like tragedy of the Labor party,” BBC correspondent Yalda Hakim says. “The turmoil, the infighting and the rivalry have been interesting for a global audience.”

After she was ousted from the leadership in June Gillard extricated herself from public life. She was silent until the election night when she publically congratulated Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and her successor in Lalor, Joanne Ryan, on their efforts. It is difficult to envision Rudd or Abbott ever affording her the same dignity.

And it is the dignity with which she has conducted herself in the aftermath of her deposal and in the lead up to, and throughout, the campaign that affords her this – her words cannot be fairly dismissed as an attempt to de-stabilise the Labor party or gratuitously attack Kevin Rudd’s character. Of course in some quarters they will be easily dismissed that way. That is inevitable but the plain truth is if they were her objectives she could – and would – have achieved both of those things far more effectively in the intervening weeks.

Her essay was never going to persuade her detractors but I sincerely doubt that was the purpose with which she wrote it. If she simply wanted to dominate headlines or attempt to wield any power, she could have been door-stopping with the media for the past 8 weeks.

Whether you support her or the Labor party, or whether you agree with her essay in its entirety, I think it is clear from reading her words that Julia Gillard’s overarching motivation is her commitment to the Labor party. Whether that has always been executed effectively is a different matter but her dedication is beyond dispute. If her loyalty to the party had wavered – even slightly – I think she would have written a very different piece several weeks ago. Or even departed public life years ago.

There is no doubt that it is time for the Labor party to draw a line in the sand and reunite. I suspect Julia Gillard is hoping that happens more intently than anyone else. And I suspect anyone who reads her piece, from start to finish, would struggle to reach a different conclusion. It’s not to say they will conclude that she is right or wrong because there is scope for many opinions in between. But there is very little scope to deny that Julia Gillard believes in the Labor party and its purpose.

It is impossible to disentangle Julia Gillard’s prime ministership from her gender. I wish that weren’t the case but, as she put it, it might not explain everything but it certainly doesn’t explain nothing. And in that regard her legacy as prime minister will always be bigger than simply leading the Labor party.

I was proud when we elected our first female prime minister but that pride was quickly overtaken by my admiration and respect for the way in which our first female leader conducted herself. I do not admire and respect Julia Gillard because I blindly agree with every decision she made – I don’t. But in the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances, some of which she created herself and other she had no control over, she was extraordinarily dignified. To my mind her article is further proof of that. It’s a trait I think all leaders –in politics, in business and in life – should aspire to.

What did you make of her piece?

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